As January 27th’s gale-force winds whipped across Fishing Bay into Crocheron’s Tedious Creek, Hoopers Island Oyster Co. hatchery manager Natalie Ruark measured water salinity with a refractometer while recording a chilly 37 degrees on her thermometer. The conditions couldn’t be more different than the “false spring” she was creating inside the hatchery.
Two weeks earlier, Ruark and her colleague Stephanie Wiegand initiated 2021 hatchery operations and are now in the middle of conditioning the 700 broodstock oysters that will be used for spawning the first half of this season. The cold bay water is pulled from the hatchery’s dock and gradually warmed to approximately 70 degrees within the first three weeks. It’s then kept at that temperature for the remaining seven weeks of the preconditioning period.
“It’s faster than what Mother Nature would do, but the oysters can still tolerate it,” says Ruark. “We’re queuing them to produce egg and sperm earlier than they would in the natural environment.”
While this occurs, the Hatchery team grows algae that will be used to feed oyster larvae.
When the hatchery team begins to strip spawn the broodstock in mid-March and initiate larval and seed production, they’ll enjoy an expanded footprint with two additions.
Hoopers’ new reservoir tank triples filtered water storage from 3,000 to 10,000 gallons. And a setting trailer outside the building is being outfitted with indoor setting tanks and bottle upwellers that will expand the hatchery’s production capacity.
Raw bay water will go through several stages of mechanical filtration that begins at a macro level and eventually separates out particles down to one micron. UV sterilization is employed when clarity is particularly poor.
“The goal is to produce more biosecure products that haven’t been exposed to the natural environment,” Ruark explains. “We have an outstanding record of favorable pathogen reports for the larvae and seed we produce for mid-Atlantic farms. This is a way of meeting the more strict regulatory standards in states that are concerned about spreading pathogens that don’t exist there right now.”
This includes Maine, whereupon approvals, Hoopers anticipates being a viable producer of seed for local oyster farmers.
Ruark encourages East Coast oyster farmers to place their larvae and seed orders now using their online form.
“Due to the high demand last year from the deficit we all faced in 2019, we weren’t able to over-winter seed as much as we do in a normal year,” she said. “So we really want to make sure farms have what they need in 2021.”
For information on Hoopers’ seed and 2021 prices and to place a pre-order, visit: https://hoopersisland.com/oyster-seed/oyster-seed-sales/